Commentator HSR47 responded to Chris’s post about someone who’d listened to too much 10cc: “Honestly, birdshot IS a decent idea, at least for the first round — the majority of DGUs [Defensive Gun Use] are won on psychology alone, without firing a shot. Of those that aren’t, it seems to me that the gruesome mess birdshot can leave may serve as a deterrent to further hostile action, especially against a group of hoodlums, and all with minimal lethality.” Sounds great—in theory. But I’ve always operated under the assumption that a DGU’s binary: either don’t shoot or shoot to stop the imminent lethal threat as quickly as possible. And that means a lethal load. Am I wrong?

70 Responses to Question of the Day: Less Lethal Rounds? Really?

  1. No. If a situation warrants hitting the bang switch, I see absolutely no reason for half measures. It’s extremely unlikely to do you any good in the eye of the law, and could possibly make you dead.

  2. Well, it probably depends on where you live. I’m in one of the anti-gun states, so in terms of any legal action after an incident involving shooting, I’m more comfortable with the first round in my shotgun being less lethal (bean bag). The laws being what they are, a court could interpret my 6 shot pump action shotgun as an assault weapon capable of leveling an entire army in 5 minutes or less…you never know. I don’t think people have heard of the 2nd Amendment here in NJ.

  3. no i dont think your wrong. but, as mentioned in the previous article in relation to distance/angle/target, any shot could be lethal, regardless of the intended lethal ability of lead vs rubber. so personally, i ask the question of my self, do i want to definitely take my attackers life? or to i want to possibly take my attackers life?(see aside) and my personal answer is that i would like to stop him, not kill him. the argument seems wrought with grey areas and different possibilities based on unforeseen variables . so, “in a vacuum” i would say that is my answer, whether or not that is possible in the heat of the moment, i cannot predict.

    (aside) of course, if you’re out to disagree with me you could rephrase my question, “do i want to definitly protect myself? or do i want to possibly protect myself?” i am aware of this, but i see death and dismemberment on a regular basis at my place of employment, and i think the more important discussion is on whether i want to take a life.

    • I have no intention of trying to change your mind about not wanting to kill an intruder, but if that is not the outcome that you wish then i feel that you are grabbing the wrong tool if you go for a gun. Remember the whole “never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot” in self defense situations it is more like “never draw a gun unless you intend to use it.” Why not set up a gun belt and hang it on the bedpost and get a baseball bat. Throw the gun belt on with your side arm in its holster and come out of the bedroom waving the bat. They won’t notice the gun, and most likely won’t stick around long enough for you to have to use it, but it’s nice and close and ready if you need it. That’s what my Dad does, just please put underwear if you intend to chase someone down the street. You cannot unsee your Dad’s bare ass running down the street, SAA at his hip and bat raised over his head, screaming like a banshee. Neither can the neighbors. Trust me.

      • “You cannot unsee your Dad’s bare ass running down the street, SAA at his hip and bat raised over his head, screaming like a banshee.”

        If he’s bare-assed, what’s holding the SAA on his hip? Sorry, but you put the picture in my head.

        • His gun belt. You don’t have a SAA without a cartridge belt and holster. That’s like not buying extra mags. 🙂

          Ha ha, I feel you, that image has been stuck in mine for over 20 years. Best part of it all though, it wasn’t a burglar, some boy was trying to sneak into my sister’s room to see her. He took of on his moped and Dad went after him. That kid never was willing to come over to the house again.

  4. Birdshot at short distances is very lethal, and won’t penetrate walls and kill your kids. Inside the house it would be a good choice.

    You probably shouldn’t be shooting sporting urban clays out on the front lawn anyway.

    • Neighbors a short distance away on the other side of the wall is why birdshot is the first few rounds in the big stick. Buckshot following very soon thereafter

      Slugs in the side saddle … just in case

    • Depending on the choke in your shotgun, most shot of whatever size spreads at about 1 inch per yard from the muzzle. At “inside the house” ranges (1 yard to 5 yards), a column of lead shot will open to about a 5-6 inch spread at maximum. Centered on the chest of an attacker, it won’t matter if that shot is #8 birdshot or 00 buckshot. The attacker will have a more or less ragged 5-6 inch hole through his center of mass, which will tend to stop his attack. Quickly.

      The advantage of the birdshot, as you mentioned, is that it is stopped a whole lot easier by sheetrock and the walls of your house/apartment than any large buckshot. That helps prevent a missed shot from hitting a family member or neighbor.

      With a handgun, you can achieve the same result using something like a Glazer Safety Slug – a pistol round with a thin metal jacket and a plastic tip, full of lead birdshot – usually #6 or so. The round will feed in most semi-autos, and will penetrate an attacker’s clothing, but will then dump all of its energy inside the body of the attacker. And the same round will generally not penetrate two layers of sheetrock with an airspace between – as found in most housing’s inner walls.

  5. Having seen what buck shot and bird shot will do in real shootings: Bird shot will f**k you up at very close range. Anyone who says it will “just piss them off” has never been shot with it. But I’m talking room distance. Buck shot is FOREVER

    • From a couple of feet away, it’ll drill a nice neat hole clean through half inch plywood.

      I rember taking a couple of pellets of birdshot stealing cherries from a farmer back in my youth. Unpleasent.

  6. #4 buckshot in the magazine with some slugs and #00 on the stock holder for back up defense once I get the family to safety and we are holding the fort until po-po arrives

  7. I think you open the door to many legal liability issues if you fire a less than lethal round at an assailant. It could be considered an admission that you didn’t find the threat to you or your’s to be deadly, yet you still fired your gun at them. If you managed to avoid criminal prosecution, I imagine the civil suit would be nasty…

  8. I don’t think your wrong, Your goal when firing a weapon in defense should be to stop the threat.

    I just finished training for national armored car company and the exact wording we had to use if we ever are required to shoot someone in defense is that “I shot to stop the threat”

    I feel that birdshot may work a majority of the time, but a majority is not good enough… it needs to work everytime…. and I am pretty sure a chest full of 00 buck or a slug will stop that threat everytime.

  9. Are you wrong? No, you’re right as rain. What others choose to do is up to them, and they are not wrong, either.

    As far as I’m concerned, any legal methods that people use to defend themselves are right. Efficacy is a whole ‘nother kettle of wax. Or ball of fish. Or something.

  10. I love how people always assume that the person invading their home will not have a weapon and be by themselves. A lot of times they will be armed and not alone. That’s why I’m going to load my 870 with buckshot. If I have to shoot I want to take the bad guy(s) out asap.

    • Exactly. I will be looking to elaminate the threat as quickly as possible. They are not worrying about my safety, so why should I worry about theirs at that time?

  11. I live in Cali — about as anti-gun as it gets. The way I see it, I’m going to end up in court either way, whether the load is lethal or not. If I am going to cross the threshold to committing to pull the trigger, I will use the meanest commercial load I can. In essence, I echo Brandon’s sentiment.

  12. I think this is a personal decision. Arguments can go both ways.

    While after a shooting you could argue, “see ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m not a blood thirsty gun nut, in fact, I loaded with less lethal rounds to give the bad guys a chance to surrender!” But at the same time, a prosecutor could argue that after you fired the bird shot, your attacker was neutralized and you should no longer have been in imminent fear for your life…your lethal followup shot was therefore unjustified.

    To me, birdshot is equivalent to a warning shot, which Robert and others on the TTAG staff rightly criticize. A warning shot implies you are not in imminent fear of death or serious bodily harm, and therefore, in most jurisdictions, was an illegal if not criminal discharge of a firearm. I am not familiar with birdshot fired from a shotgun, but for those us with handguns, the pistol sized “snake shot” rounds have no documented history or studies to back them up as reliable tools to stop attacks by humans.

    On the other hand, if you have serious moral reservations about using deadly force, even in self defense, then I suppose no one can fault you for using birdshot. But I doubt you are leaving yourself less of a legal mess to clean up afterwords, because if nothing else, there will be hostile witness alive who may very well lie about the circumstances of the shooting. If you are going to go this route, then why not just use pepper spray or a taser?

  13. What we need for the California and Illinois folks is some sort of shotgun shell that when fired throws unicorn piss over the rainbow, and when the perpetrator is hit it makes him/her run out the door and hug a tree.

  14. Every argument, it seems to me, is made too binary. It depends who you are, your home, neighborhood, alarm systems, type of gun(s), PD response times, presence of a good dog. It seems sensible to load for the worst threat (buckshot, or big bullets). Anything beyond that entails risk, requires judgement, and may backfire. I like to have some less lethal in case I find that I’ve got grandpa-with-alzheimer’s from down the street in my kitchen with a knife. But if some LL in his gun can convince a pacifist that his buying and bearing a gun is OK, then, hey, we’ve got him halfway to the goal post of liberty. Oh, and if I have to answer an intruder alert fast and naked, the bastard gets buckshot.

      • Me, too. Turning 60, I had to face the fact. At Ft. Wolters, age 19, I was being cautions, but on that really hot Texas day my instructor said to me, “you’re flying like old people ____. ” I’ve switched from my skeet gun to an 870, and finally to a Benelli M4. Same problem. But standard 00 loads feel light in the Benelli. Haven’t found a speed solution for that other bit.

  15. Does my German Sheppard count as a less lethal device?

    On a serious note, the answer to this question will be as diverse as each of us. There are so many variables. When I lived out in the woods I would investigate bumps in the night with my big maglight or baseball bat, maybe a .45 on my hip. Now that I live in a city with a very high murder rate and other violent crimes, high drug rate and experience calling 911 because people where breaking in and the cops couldn’t bother showing up (they did call about 14 hours later to ask if we still needed them) I am not willing to risk them getting back up. Since I live in a nice area the MO here is kick in the door at 3am with 3-5 armed guys to clean out the place quickly and “deal” with any pesky home owners, so that is the situation that I have to plan for now. If I am going to be out numbered, I like to at least out gun them. If I use all 8 rounds of 3″ 00 buck then I will drop the 870 and draw the .45 and work back towards the M1 Garand. Repeat as needed with what guns are still loaded until there is no longer a threat. Having been in combat and having seen and felt what bullets do to people I have absolutely no desire to shoot anyone. Unless it is them or me.

    I would rather stand trial for what I have survived, than be remembered for how I was butchered. That’s just my $0.02.

  16. 9 pellet 00 buck. Period. If I’m firing my shotgun, it’s because I have determined that I, or my family, are facing a deadly threat. That is not a time for half-measures.

    • I’m using 12 gauge managed recoil loads. Eight pellets of 00 buck, 1200 fps. Plenty of power but with less recoil and less unwanted penetration. Those rounds might not cycle an autoloader, but they work fine in a pump, SxS and O&U.

  17. You can argue what ammunition to use all day long if you like, but what you can’t argue is this: when you drop the hammer on someone, it has to be because you feel that your life or the lives of people around you are threatened. Having made that determination, you have but one recourse, and that is to end it as fast as possible. Which means shoot to kill. If it is your aim to scare someone, buy a Michelle Obama mask.

  18. Rubber shot is less lethal–without proper use and application, it can still easily kill. And whatever you kill someone with as a civilian matters a lot less than why and was it necessary when the intention was clear, as you pulled the trigger.

    Shoot or don’t shoot. It’s about stopping a threat to your life, not about whether you are forced into killing a criminal in the process.

    • I just wanted to add, it’s unfortunate that the most effective way to stop a human threat is by perforating the chest cavity multiple times as quickly as possible. If criminals do not like the rules of the game they are playing with their lives, they should probably find a new profession.

  19. If the situation has deteriorated to the point that I have to shoot someone with my 12 gauge I don’t want something that might stop them, I want something that will stop them. So that means 00 buck stays loaded in my HD shotgun.

  20. You have the people who want a gun to scare someone, and then you have the people who own guns to protect themselves and their family. When I first began discussing self defense with my wife, she was what most would have referred to as an anti until I came along, she used to comment that a BB gun that looked like a real gun was all she needed because it would scare the bad guys away. My response was always, “What if they don’t run away?” Your philosophy may be to make the bad guys stop with candles, vigils, tears, fairy dust and feathers, the only ammunition I will trust with my family’s lives is buckshot and hollow points.

  21. Birdshot is very effective. 7 1/2 or 8 shot will blind, disable, and incapacitate a person. Count on it. And it won’t penetrate walls, is slowed by window glass effectively, and has far less recoil for follow up shots or women to use properly.
    I go number 4 or smaller for defensive use. Try it on a few targets like water jugs, telephone books, etc and you’ll see it’s effective.

    • I used to shoot pest and sick animals out at the farm. I have shot groundhogs and other medium to large animals close up with shotguns. At close range, even bird shot is lethal. One time I did a head shot with a Model 12 on a ground hog at maybe 20-25 yards and it blew a hole clean through its skull with BB shot. At a distance of 21 feet, most 12 gauge loads are going to be rather effective.

  22. I agree with Mr. Farago on this concept. Birdshot may be a very strong deterrent to further action by the Bad Guy. But the individual pellets don’t have enough mass to penetrate to the central nervous system on a human target. A CNS hit is the only way to ensure the Bad Guy will stop trying to kill you. As far as birdshot in the chamber and buckshot in the magazine for follow up shots, what if there is no follow up shot? The gun may jam, the bad guy may take cover, he may return fire, etc.

  23. IF someone can be scared into stopping his attack, then the mere sight of my firearm pointed at his thoracic cavity (chest) will be enough. If that doesn’t work and I have to pull the trigger, then I need ammunition which has a very high probability it will KILL him.

    I hope I will be able to CONVINCE an assailant to stop his attack, but I’m not betting my life on it. That is why I train frequently and carry a full-size .45 loaded with Black Talon ammo.

    • Not trying to be nit picky but I realize I probably am so here goes anyway. Black Talons are at least 11 or 12 years old. After all the idiotic press about the “evil” Talons (which were a great bullet in their time) Winchester simply improved the Talon and renamed it the SXT. Better off to get some factory fresh SXT’s that have the benefit of 12 years technological refinement and put those Talons on backpage for a ridiculous amount of money. There are plenty of folks that still buy into the notorious name and will pay top dollar for them. I see boxes of 50 go for $70 to $90 a box here in Phoenix. Just a suggestion.

      • I agree.

        Think of all the douchebag jurors who will be scared by the evil “Black Talon” name (ammunition that’s so dangerous – surgeons got together and banned it!), when you can get highly effective new ammo. That’ll make the “legal defense” portion after your DGU a whole lot simpler.

        Research ammo used by your local law enforcement – it’s been tested, shot, qualified with, and is much more “lawsuit – resistant” than Black Talon. Of course, your final decision is up to you – that’s the great part of having freedom. I just have far too much experience with juries that are less than what our Founding Fathers had hoped for, and I hate to see lawful gun owners be vilified by opportunistic attorneys.

  24. If you use bird shot, even if you convince your attacker to stop, be sure to be prepared for the lawsuit. Picture a man covered in bandages and some great charts and x-rays in the courtroom.

    If you are going to discharge a firearm in response to a threat, it should be only because you are prepared to kill your attacker. Less lethal rounds only serve to make it seem easier to pull the trigger with your sights on another human being. Use them if you want, but treat them like any other lethal round.

    • 1st round in my 12gauge is a blank, next rubber bb’s, after that home defense rounds(a slug & buckshot), I might catch some flack about my choice, I always have a Bond Arms Snake Slayer4 on me, my carry gun is a 1911 with the Snake Slayer as a backup, if I really want to fill’m full of holes, my 5.56 pistol or rifle, or my .30cal carbine, all three will hold at least 30rounds with less recoil than the 12gauge.

      • your rifle requires you to pull the trigger multiple times to fill em’ with holes, a 12 gauge with a 3in shell will do it in one pull. If you truly need to stop someone, 00 buck is hard to beat.

      • That is like carrying with no round in the chamber and a snap cap as the first round in the magazine. It serves no purpose other than to make it hard to defend yourself when you really need to, and increase your liability when you don’t.

  25. So your shotgun is loaded with birdshot, BadGuy produces a pistol…

    You shoot him with birdshot, he shoots you with a .40 round or two.

    How is this good?

    AND

    if you didn’t fear for your life and decided to use a less-lethal round… you had no business using a firearm… could YOU be charged with a crime?

  26. If I use my 590 it’s for one reason – stop whatever’s not right, right now. Eight rounds of Fiocchi nickel-plated double-ought in the tube and six rounds of Brenneke short mag SF slugs in the side-saddle in case the Fiocchi’s ain’t doing the trick.

    To each his own but if someone breaks into my house with the intent to harm me, I will give no quarter. I don’t give a shit what you’re story is. Strung out looking for drug money? I don’t care, you’re problem. Rather steal from honest folks than work? I don’t care, your problem. Life has consequences and if those consequences are hard you need to look in the mirror, not at me. I’ve lived an honest life, treated my fellow man well and expect no less in return. Can’t meet me on a righteous level and have the balls to ask for a fight in my house? I’ll damn well shut down the show.

  27. To qualify my post as quoted above, my main intent was to suggest an alternative to “less lethal” ammunition — birdshot has a Hell of a lot more potential of stopping a thread than does rubber buckshot. I was also discussing the possibility of facing a large number of hoodlums — a mob if you will. In such a situation, it is nigh on impossible to shoot ALL of them, therefore the first volley must have the most gruesome effect possible so as to have the largest possible deterrent effect upon the mob as a whole. Essentially when defending oneself from a mob, standard defensive tactics don’t always apply.

    As it stands, I do not employ a shotgun for home defense; I don’t even own one. At this point, my HD gun is generally whichever pistol I happen to have on or about my person, and sometimes a rifle.

  28. If you’re going to point a weapon at someone, you damned sure better have the resolve to do what you need to do. Anyone who actually counts on someone soiling their britches just because they hear the sound of a shell being chambered or simply at the sight of a firearm may find that the days of fooling themselves has come to an end.

  29. Recommend reading the The Varmint and Crow Hunters Bible, The Upland Game Hunter’s Bible Dan, Bert Popowski & George Laycock Holland (Author) and visiting Randy Wakeman web site.

  30. Recommend reading the The Varmint and Crow Hunters Bible, The Upland Game Hunter’s Bible Dan, Bert Popowski, and visiting Randy Wakeman Outdoors web site.

  31. Since when is bird shot gruesome? Shoot a bird with bird shot & it tumbles to the ground in one piece, it might have lost some feathers in the process but not much else happens. Shoot a bird with buck shot & a haggard mess will be hitting the ground.

    Bird shot can not be reliably counted on to incapacitate a person. There’s plenty of stories where people get shot with much more powerful rounds & continued their assault. Bird shot can only be counted on to create superficial wounds.

    You have to make every shot count, doesn’t matter if you’re facing one assailant or an army of them, this is especially true when it comes to most shotguns due to their limited magazine capacity. That’s why you should only use ammo that can be counted time & time again to stop threats if you do your part.

    Having to possibly defend yourself from a mob of people is even more reason to not to use bird shot. You cant assume that the mob will stop their assault as soon as they’re met with resistance. Will multiple assailants coming at you, you’ll be against the clock big time, you have to take out as many threats as quickly as possible. The longer you take the closer the rest of the mob is to you, so use ammo that will quickly neutralize assailants.

    Bird shot is meant to stop small birds & other animals roughly the same size, not people.

    • It would be a mistake to compare wounds from actual hunting – produced at the ranges encountered in actual hunting – to the damage caused at room distances (< 5 yards). But you do have a point.

      Tests on ballistics gel I've found online show that even with small birdshot you can get a large wound channel with about 4-5 inches of penetration. Now for a guy like me 4-5 inches comes awfully close to punching a hole clean through my thoracic cavity. But a big, heavy dude – especially wearing a big, heavy coat – you can't say that's going to stop him. So birdshot's out for me when it comes to home defense.

  32. I think a major problem with “less lethal” means is that, while intended to substitute lethal alternatives, the users start applying them is situations that could be resolved by much less forcefully. Tasers are a good example. Instead of being used in place of a gun, they get somethines are used on people that don’t need to be shot by anything

  33. Screwups happen. Thats why my Uncle’s self defense load was: Empty chamber, birdshot, birdshot, buckshot, buckshot, buckshot…

    It was not about “kill or no kill” it was “What happens if a screwup happens”: the birdshit won’t overpenetrate, and is less likely to kill someone by accident. But if the situation demanded, just keep firing…

  34. What about the issue of over-penetration of buckshot in a home? Birdshot only makes it through maybe one drywall wall, buckshot will keep going. Possibly endangering family members as well.

    • Anything that can be considered remotely reliable for defense against humans will go through drywall. I can punch through drywall, I cant punch through someone’s rib cage or skull.

      Vital organs are protected by a mass of muscle, bone, fat & cartilage. Bird shot can not reliably reach & do significant damage to vital organs. Bird shot can make a nasty looking/feeling wound but it won’t be deep enough & although there’s a lot of projectiles, those projectiles are very small & don’t make much of a permanent cavity.

      The longer an attacker has motor skills, the longer they’re able to pull a trigger, swing/stab a knife, swing a club, punch/kick/stomp, etc.

      Since the possibility of over penetration will be an issue with reliable HD ammo, you have to train to mitigate the issue . Train at the range as much as you feasibly can to improve your gun fighting & also go through your home evaluating where it’s safe to shoot & where it should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

  35. I carry a 32 revolver with the first 3 rounds of birdshot and the last 3-real bullrts!

    Are you telling us that if an assailant is about to attack me with a baseball bat or a knife, he most likely has a loaded handgun in his pocket that he doesn’t want to use?

    Do you also mean to tell us that if an assailant is coming at me and I DO NOT SEE A HANDGUN- and I pull out my 32 or 38 cal revolver and start hitting him with birdshot, counting the 3 rounds, 1,2,3 as I fire them- he will continue to be completely oriented and will continue to come at me under control with his knife or bat?

    Are you telling us that the assailant, after first seeing my gun, will continue approaching me!? Then-
    Are you relling us that such an assailant after three birdshot to head and neck area, will be able to continue a controlled attack on me and that I will not be able to outrun him and avoid him?

    If That is true, then remember-

    I STILL HAVE THOSE 3 lethal rounds left!

    IN MY VIEW, ANYONE WHO CAN’T HANDLE AN ATTACKER WHO DOESN’T SHOW A HA NDGUN, WITHOUT BLOWING HIM AWAY-IS TOO STUPID AND LAZY TO BE PREPARED FOR SUCH A CONFRONTATION BY GOING THROUGH A SIMULATED ATTACK RESONSE TRAINING PROGRAM LIKE MANY POLICE DEPTS HAVE.

    George Zimmerman you idiot !!

    Mike Corman

    misterfact@yahoo.com

  36. If police find those self contained taser projectiles shot from a shotgun-an effective non-lethal weapon, they should allow citizens to fire those shells from a concealed sawed- off shotgun. (large pistol)

  37. If the police find those self-contained taser shells fired from a shot gun-effective; they should allow citizens to carry a concealed pistol firing those shells.

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